Donnan Dialysis for Recovering Ammonium from Fermentation Solutions Rich in Volatile Fatty Acids

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For the production of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) using nitrogen-rich feedstocks (e.g., protein-rich resources), the typical strategy of restricting cell growth as a means to enhance overall PHA productivity by nitrogen limitation is not applicable. In this case, a possible alternative to remove the nitrogen excess (NH4+/NH3) is by applying membrane separation processes. In the present study, the use of Donnan dialysis to separate ammonium ions from volatile fatty acids present in the media for the production of PHA was evaluated. Synthetic and real feed solutions were used, applying NaCl and HCl receiver solutions separated by commercial cation-exchange membranes. For this specific purpose, Fumasep and Ralex membranes showed better performance than Ionsep. Sorption of ammonium ions occurred in the Ralex membrane, thus intensifying the ammonium extraction. The separation performances with NaCl and HCl as receiver solutions were similar, despite sorption occurring in the Ralex membrane more intensely in the presence of NaCl. Higher volumetric flow rates, NaCl receiver concentrations, and volume ratios of feed:receiver solutions enhanced the degree of ammonium recovery. The application of an external electric potential difference to the two-compartment system did not significantly enhance the rate of ammonium appearance in the receiver solution. The results obtained using a real ammonium-containing solution after fermentation of cheese whey showed that Donnan dialysis can be successfully applied for ammonium recovery from such solutions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number347
Number of pages26
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 17 Mar 2023


  • ammonium limitation
  • ammonium sorption
  • biopolymer
  • biopolymers
  • cation-exchange membrane
  • Donnan dialysis
  • organic acids recovery
  • PHA production
  • protein-rich feedstocks
  • volatile fatty acids


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